Sony X900E TV Review
By Chris Heinonen on
The Sony X900E UltraHD TV is a new model to their lineup for 2017. It features a full array backlight with 45 zones of local dimming (9×5 I believe, but am not certain), HDR and wide color gamut support, a true 120Hz refresh rate, and integrated streaming through Android TV. With one of the only full array local dimming backlights on the market, it is primed to compete directly with the Vizio P65 in performance and price. Can the Sony dethrone what has been the best value in a HDR TV this past year?
Sony X900E Design and Features
The Sony X900E comes in 49”, 55”, 65”, and 75” sizes. All of these use VA panels with a 120Hz refresh rate so you can get the same image quality regardless of how much space you have. While image quality should be similar between the sizes, the brightness of HDR highlights might vary since the backlights will be different. For our testing, we are using a 65” model.
Connectivity is handled with four HDMI inputs, though only inputs 2 and 3 offer the full 18.0Gb/sec bandwidth needed for HDR and WCG content. Android TV integration lets you stream Netflix, Amazon and others in UltraHD with HDR as well. In a nice touch the X900E includes a pair of IR emitters so the included remote can easily control your cable box or another device without resorting to the less reliable HDMI CEC.
Sony uses a center pedestal design for the X900E stand, something I prefer to the “clawfoot” style stands other companies are using. It’s easier to place on a cabinet that might not be the full width. The remote has a rubber coating so it seems like it might stand up to some excess water better than most, and has a microphone in it for searching with Google. Despite having this microphone, which means it has Bluetooth or WiFi direct for communications, it uses IR for signals and has a relatively small sensor for it.
Most important to the Sony X900E is that it includes both HDR and WCG support. HDR is done with a 20-zone full array backlight. I usually love full-array backlights, though 20 zones are on the smaller side when compared to the Vizio or other models. The WCG support covers almost the entire DCI/P3 gamut, though as discussed in our Color Volume article, this isn’t the best way to measure this. We will have full Color Volume data in the full review once it is complete.
The Sony X900E uses Android TV for an interface which is nice because it offers a full array of streaming content, but is almost insufferably slow. Android TV on the Shield TV, with a faster processor, is a much better experience for the end user. You can speed up the Sony by disabling some services and entering developer mode to change presets, but most people will never do that. While Android TV could be good, on the Sony X900E it leaves me using an external media streamer instead.
Sony X900E HDR Performance
I tested the Sony X900E using the Oppo UDP-203 UltraHD Blu-ray player along with a Shield TV, Roku Premiere+, and the internal streaming apps. Measuring the Cinema Pro preset, the EOTF tracks almost perfectly, though the grayscale has a touch of blue to it.
Using a 10% window, the Sony X900E puts out 900 nits of brightness. As with all HDR displays, it has a slight issue with the EOTF around the 70% knee, but nothing big. Since the Sony has no CMS you don’t need to do any edits to that at all. Like most recent Sony displays, SDR and HDR share a grayscale memory so if you calibrate one, the other will also use it. In our sample, the SDR grayscale average dE2000 after we calibrated the HDR grayscale was a tiny 1.36, so this system works fine.
One thing that is noticeable with the Sony X900E is that the tone mapping varies a lot between Cinema Pro, Custom, and Standard modes. We measured Calibrated Pro initially, since it should track the standards like we want it to, but watching Pan I found that Custom did a better job with tone mapping the extremely bright highlights. More detail was present compared to Cinema Pro, while Standard just blew them out. We will have to go back and perform a full set of measurements on Custom to see how it compared to Cinema Pro, but I prefer how it does the tone mapping.
Doing some direct comparisons to the P65, there are clear differences between the two sets. The P65 has better blacks as far more dimming zones make it easy to see the difference. By comparison, the brighter highlights the X900E can do in HDR are also clear to see. During the nightclub raid scene in John Wick, bits of red neon are much brighter and red on the Sony compared to the Vizio. Scenes with bright clouds snow more details on the Sony, while the sky in Pan is a rich shade of blue on the Sony while it is a washed out blue on the Vizio. More comparisons, especially with darker material like Harry Potter, will be needed to compare the two.
I’ve gone through and measured more of the presets on the X900E after the update to Android 7.0 and have some notes on each of them.
Cinema Pro: This is the most accurate mode. It tracks the EOTF correctly and has the lowest grayscale errors of any of the presets.
Cinema Home: Cinema Home makes everything brighter, earlier. So a pixel that should be 95 nits is coming out at 251 nits, while one that should be 10 nits is 34 nits. This continues all the way up. What it does provide is a brighter, punchier image in many scenes, but when you have bright highlights those clip to a high degree and you lose lots of detail.
Custom: Custom tracks the opposite way that Cinema Home does, it in that it makes everything dimmer. This leads you to seeing more detail in bright highlights, but most other scenes are dimmer than they should be. A pixel that should be 10 nits is instead 8.4, one that should be 94 nits comes out at 73 nits. The first value that should peak at 906 nits instead is only 554 nits.
With Custom I found I had a peak light output of 906 nits. Cinema Pro gave me 902 nits, and Cinema Home was 890 nits. Those are close enough that there could easily be measurement error for each as the peak level can rise and fall some as the pattern is left up for longer.
When it comes to Color Volume, we’ve been using the Dolby method as so far it best tracks what our eyes are seeing as well. Using their measurements, the Sony X900E produces 356 million distinguishable colors. For comparison the Vizio P65 does 257 million, the TCL P607 does 267 million, and the Sony A1E OLED does 346 million. This matches up to our HDR viewing, where the Sony models have clear benefits with HDR highlights, showing colors and details that the other sets obscure.
The Sony X900E, unlike the Vizio and TCL models, only supports HDR10 and not Dolby Vision. The higher-end Sony displays (X930E, X940E, A1E OLED, Z9D) are getting an upgrade to Dolby Vision in the future but not the X900E. We’ve done some testing of Dolby Vision here with the Vizio and TCL models and it does a very good job of improving the image. but we couldn’t A-B the X900E against it. As more Dolby Vision content comes out, just know the X900E can’t handle it and will use the HDR10 version.
|White Level||157.1 nits||157.8 nits|
|Black Level||0.0101 nits||0.0101 nits|
|Average Grayscale dE2000||1.37||1.20|
|Average Saturations dE2000||1.13||1.09|
|Average Color Checker dE2000||1.47||1.42|
|Summary||The Sony X900E doesn’t offer a CMS, but with adjustments to the grayscale, gamma, and other controls you can get an image that is very close to perfect out of it. The full array backlighting works well with an APL pattern, offering very good contrast ratios.|
During the opening Macau scene in Skyfall, there is clearly more light blooming happening in the letterbox bars and on screen with the Sony than the Vizio. When fireworks explode the clouds in the sky light up more with the Sony as the backlights are not as finely controlled due to fewer dimming zones. Blooming is kept in pretty good control, but it is noticeable if you look for it. The letterbox bars are brighter, but not to a degree that most people will notice unless they’re either looking for it or have another display next to it.
Pre-calibration, you can see the image is very accurate. The grayscale was slightly adjusted in HDR mode already, but not much. The defaults are very good to start and only get better.
Post-calibration we see very little wrong with the image at all. The flaws that we don’t see objectively we can see in viewing, with the black levels not quite to the same level as the Vizio P65 but you can’t tell that from the charts.
Watching the NCAA basketball championship game, the motion on the Sony is often better but not always. With a bit of reality creation engaged you see some more detail on the 1080i recording, but sometimes you can see a bit of judder on panning shots. Neither the Vizio or the Sony stood out from the other one, and it would not bother me to watch sports on either display.
Both displays make very good SDR displays. A slight edge goes to the Sony as it has more options for motion and image processing, including black frame insertion. This drops the light output significantly, and the overall flicker kept me from using it long term, but some people won’t mind.
Input lag inside of game mode is 31ms, which is good enough for most people, but not as fast as some other models out there. Outside of game mode this rises way up past 100ms, so you need to enable it for any sort of gaming.
When we started this review, the main competition for the Sony was the Vizio P-Series. Now as we finish it, the major competition is the TCL P-Series. The TCL offers more local dimming zones and a much better interface, but lower build quality, a worse stand, lower HDR brightness, and a peak refresh rate of 60Hz instead of 120Hz. It also only comes in a 55″ size today, while the Sony is available in 49″, 55″, 65″, and 75″.
The Sony X900E offers an image that is clearly better than the TCL, and one that also looks better at wider viewing angles. The gap between the two increases as you watch HDR as well with the superior peak highlights of the Sony X900E. If you’re after a 55″ model, the TCL offers a compelling reason to get it, with its low price and high performance. If you want more than that or a different size, the Sony X900E is current the best option for an LCD for most people I feel.
The Sony X900E is a high-performance LCD that offers accurate SDR and HDR images, full array local dimming, and all the major streaming services at a good price. It also comes in a wide range of sizes, making it an option for home theaters large and small, which most of the competition does not. You can spend more on an LCD, though we would advise most people to go ahead and spend the money on an OLED instead.
If you want an LCD and want one with high performance for any content you throw at it, the Sony X900E is a great place to look. The image is great, the build quality and design are top notch, and it has no major drawbacks that we could find. The Sony X900E comes highly recommended by us.
Accurate SDR and HDR images, full array local dimming, great design and build quality.
Android interface is slow.
The Sony X900E LCD offers great SDR and HDR performance in a wide range of sizes. It does much better with HDR content than competing models we have tested, and still looks fantastic with SDR as well. You might want to use an external media streamer to avoid the AndroidTV interface, but that is the only major drawback we found in the set.